Underground Construction - July 2019 - 10

WASHINGTONWATCH

Stephen Barlas | Washington Editor

First Infrastructure Bill Emerges in Congress
House Democrats have introduced the
first infrastructure package in Congress
that would make significant new
investments in broadband deployment
and drinking water systems, among
other areas. All 31 Democrats on the
House Energy & Commerce Committee
sponsored the LIFT America Act (H.R.
2741), which had a hearing in front of
that committee on May 22, 2019.
The bill, with a $40-billion price tag,
only touches on programs in that
committee's jurisdiction. It does not
address funding for roads and bridges,
for example, nor does it provide a funding
source for the $40 billion.
There is one interesting, unexplained
gas pipeline provision in the bill. It would
authorize $1.5 billion in "assistance for
low-income communities to support
methane pipeline replacement." The
committee's spokesman did not respond
to a request for further details on that
provision. Methane is the most-potent
greenhouse gas, and Democratic leaders are
trying to inject the LIFT bill with political
momentum by marrying its infrastructure
and "climate change" appeals.
Elgie Holstein, senior director for
strategic planning, Environmental
Defense Fund, says the concept was raised
in meetings at the Energy Department
during the Obama Administration,
attended by environmental and pipeline
representatives. The issue relates to
distribution, not transmission, pipelines in
cities with high percentages of low-income
residents, where distribution companies
argue raising rates to pay for methane leak
plugging would hurt gas consumers unable
to pay for the improvements. The idea is
for the federal government to subsidize the
distribution company capital expenditures.
At the hearings on May 22, Rep.
Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the
committee and the key sponsor of the LIFT
America Act, which he also introduced in
the last Congress, said he hoped he would
get Republican support for his bill. The top
10

JULY 2019 | UConOnline.com

Republican on the committee, Rep. Greg
Walden (Ore.) agreed that there were some
good provisions in the bill, but he worried
about a rush to spend money on projects
that were not ready to go, which is what
he said happened when Congress passed
the 2009 stimulus package and ostensible
"shovel-ready" projects were nowhere near
ready. He particularly cited the Recovery
Act's spending on broadband deployment,
where funds were appropriated prior to any
national mapping being done to determine
where underserved areas were located.
While Walden applauded some of
what is in the Pallone bill, he also
highlighted what it was missing, in his
view, specifically pipeline permitting
reform. There he repeatedly alluded to
the need in New England for sources of
natural gas and the difficulties of getting
new pipelines built as permits have been
delayed or disapproved, most often
by state environmental departments.
However, the EDF's Holstein answers
"emphatically not" when asked whether he
thinks pipeline permitting reform should
be part of an infrastructure package.
The LIFT Act would fund $40 billion
in high-speed broadband internet
buildout across the country. Walden
implied that will happen without federal
dollars, pointing to the T-Mobile-Sprint
merger which the companies have said,
if approved, will result in 5G broadband
service being extended to 97 percent of the
U.S. within three years.
The LIFT America Act includes
provisions to extend and increase
authorizations of $18.69 billion for
essential drinking water programs
including the Safe Drinking Water State
Revolving Loan Fund. Interestingly,
the same day the E&C committee held
its hearings, the House Appropriations
Committee passed an Environmental
Protection Agency funding bill for fiscal
2020, which starts Oct. 1, 2019. Any
authorization figures in the LIFT Act
are advisory.

The Appropriations Committees
actually provide the funds. So, it was
noteworthy the House Appropriations
Committee provided $1.784 billion for
the Clean Water State Revolving Fund
(CWSRF). According to the National
Association of Clean Water Agencies, this
proposed increase is $90 million over
the recent fiscal years. The full House is
expected to endorse the increase, but the
Republican-controlled Senate may cut
it back. On the negative side, the House
appropriations bill also cuts funding for
the Water Infrastructure Finance and
Innovation Act (WIFIA) by $18 million
to $50 million.

Pipeline Companies
Oppose Proposed
Mapping Requirements
The proposal from the Pipeline
and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration (PHMSA) to force
transmission and distribution pipelines
to submit additional geospatial data to
the National Pipeline Mapping System
(NPMS) could cost the industry tens of
millions of dollars in added expenses.
Arick Sears, senior regulatory attorney,
MidAmerican Energy Company, says the
new reporting mandates for pipelines, if
finalized, will cost his company $1 million.
Paiute Pipeline Company, in its
comments to PHMSA, said the new
data collection requirements would
substantially increase the number of
pipeline attributes collected from four
to 19. "In Paiute's case, the requested
attributes reside in multiple databases/
platforms outside of its geographic
information system (GIS) and would
require substantial data integration to
provide the information requested in the
geospatial formats specified by PHMSA,"
wrote Mark Litwin, vice president/general
manager of Paiute. "It is estimated this
data integration activity will take several
years to complete at a cost upwards of
$1 million."


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Underground Construction - July 2019

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Contents
Underground Construction - July 2019 - FC
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Underground Construction - July 2019 - IBC
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